A historic week and a step in the right direction for English football


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This week saw the EFL and Professional Game Match Official (PGMOL) observe the first-ever female football league referee, as well as the proposed appointment of the first pair of British South Asians to officiate in the same Championship match.

Rebecca Welch was the first female to have been appointed to an English Football League fixture as a referee, as she oversaw a mid-table clash between Harrogate Town and Port Vale on Easter Monday.

The Vale leapfrogged their opponents in a 2-0 away win but, for 90 minutes Welch was the centre of attention. Something that she would hope nobody notices on her next appointment, as she sets sights on a new chapter for female referees in the men’s professional game.

The hostile world of refereeing was never an ambition for the 37-year-old, but Welch has out-performed male counterparts while rising through the ranks of the grassroots and women’s game.

Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher told Sky Sports that the sky is the limit for what Welch can achieve: “We all have our individual voyage, we all guide ourselves.

“The more you go up, the more you realise how good you are, the better you perform.

“There is no ceiling, it’s up to her to do what she wants.”

The Durham-based official is no stranger to the pressures of football, having taken charge of the Women’s FA Cup final, Women’s Champions League and a longstanding member of the WSL (Women’s Super League). As well as recently being promoted to UEFA’s elite category of officials.

“When I decided to become a referee 11 years ago, I had no idea I would be the first female in the EFL, it didn’t even register on my radar!” she told Sky Sports.

“I’ve always said throughout all my promotions, I want to be promoted on merit, rather than an appointment based on anything else. I do believe that in the next 10 to 15 years, we’ll see a female referee in the Premier League.”

“I do think it’s important to show that women who are in the top one per cent of their category can proceed to the next level so it definitely makes others down the pyramid look up and know that they can achieve the same,” she added.

In the summer of 2020, the Football Association revealed that the number of female referees in English football had risen by 72% since 2016; with this in mind, Welch should be idolised as a pioneer for women in sport.

Meanwhile, Sikh brothers Bhups and Sunny Singh Gill will make English Football League history this weekend as they are set to become the first pair of British South Asians to officiate in the same Championship match.

The brothers will be continuing their family history, as they follow the footsteps of their father Jarnail Singh, the first turbaned Sikh to referee in the EFL.

PGMOL – the governing body responsible for match official appointments across the EFL – confirmed Bhups as one of the two assistant referees, whilst Sunny will prowl the technical areas as fourth official in Saturday’s Sky Bet Championship fixture between Bristol City vs Nottingham Forest.

Former Premier League match official and 2010 World Cup Final referee Howard Webb was full of praise for the Berkshire brothers: “I’m absolutely thrilled to see the progress that Sunny and Bhups have made in the game. I’ve had my eye on them for quite some time,”

“They are athletic, they know how to manage people, all these skills that you need to be successful. If you don’t have them, you don’t survive in the professional game. These guys have done more than survive, they’ve excelled, and I think will continue to do so.

“Both have gone through those hard yards of local football and then progressing through the different levels and probably feeling like at some point they want to pack in because it’s not been an easy day at the office, but they’ve persevered through those difficult times.”

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PE teacher Bhupinder, 36, is England’s highest-ranked South Asian assistant referee. Sunny, 37, is a prison officer at HMP Feltham and the most senior British South Asian referee in the country.

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These landmark appointments of Welch, Bhups and Sunny are hoped to be just a ‘stepping stone’ in the right direction for English football.

Gallagher said: “It just shows now in refereeing, there is no barrier to entry,”

He added: “It also shows now that it is about the person for the job, whether that is a man or a woman. Whoever is the best person for the job gets that job, and that is how it should be.”

“It’s there if you want it – and I think that is the message they send out. It is there if you want it.”

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Sports Journalism undergraduate at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) with an excellent knowledge and passion for football. As well as a strong all-round understanding of most major sports. Given my passion for sport and my previous experiences in Business, I know a career in Sports Journalism would be perfect for me.

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